"Comparisons between musicians are blunt instruments. But if a more orchestral take on Elliott Smith appeals, Canadian troubadour Andy Shauf is a find. A singer-songwriter with a Beatles hang-up and a voice like sodden velvet, Shauf is on his second properly available album. The Party isn’t a concept album so much as a set of closely observed tracks linked by intersecting characters where Shauf replaces Smith’s more misanthropic tendencies with compassion and wry understatement. On the more indie-leaning Quite Like You, Shauf’s narrator makes a clumsy play for his best friend’s on-off girlfriend. Partygoers collapse or embarrass themselves; strings, clarinets and lush Harry Nilsson-style moments all add to the snapshot of an accomplished new voice." - Guardian
"Flowering from studies with at the esteemed Mills College CCM and with Robert Ashley and Terry Riley in the ‘70s, the breathtaking and little-known recordings in Hearing Music are testament to the lush, earthly beauty of Joanna Brooks’ privately issued new age tapes made between 1981 and 1985 in The Bay Area, west coast USA. Channelling parallel strains of ambient and new age with a clear appreciation of classical minimalism, Joanna’s music is focussed on a spiritual essence yet it is mercifully shy of the sonic baggage that comes with new age’s more cloying facets.
This statement from Joanna really says a lot about her music, too: “I realised that, in many instances, it didn’t matter what you said, it mattered how you said it: the tone of the voice, the rhythm, the sound… Because sound has an incredible effect on other people, it can make them dance, put them into trances, it can control emotions by a certain pitch, a certain depth.” Taking this into account, Hearing Music cuts to the point, often working with only one or two elements in order to find their, and the player’s beauty thru a stark simplicity and evolving repetition found to be in harmony with the quartz-timed pace and elemental order of the natural world." - Boomkat
"I’ve kept all my fortune cookie fortunes. So I have hundreds of fortunes. I’ve always wondered why I keep these fortunes, and when we started to get together for this I thought, ‘Oh, this is going to be a good thing. Arranging the fortunes, Oldham used them like a “sample kit,” a “palette for words” that allowed him to free associate and melodically improvise, with gentle platitudes at the ready to draw from. The lyrics drift in and out, positive and soothing, but quizzical and curious, too. “May life throw you a pleasant curve,” Oldham sings. “Show your love and your love will be returned,” he whimsically advises. Coupled with the Bajas’ mystic tones, the platitudes take on a warm resonance beyond their humble origins, like the cat from one of those “hang in there” motivational posters climbing out of its tree to purr in your lap.
“Music is, I think, meant to placate, complete, disrupt,” Oldham says. “It’s meant to be a part of psyches that are already pretty much formed but will be incessantly incomplete until death. I like that idea that the thing that I need most is some sort of accepting, comfort, and acknowledgment that things are unclear, but that one is not alone in experiencing this lack of clarity.”" - Aquarium Drunkard
"Everything about Day of the Dead suggests that it long ago ceased being a fundraising exercise for the Aids charity Red Hot and turned into a painstaking labour of love. You can tell by its packaging, which is beautiful, and by the sleevenotes that gushingly attest to how obsessed its curators – the National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner – are with the album’s subject: Grateful Dead. In among the stuff about the how the spirit of Jerry Garcia lives on and the impossibility of doing the band’s legacy justice, there’s a conversation with Dead guitarist Bob Weir: when he mentions that he likes the National, the Desser twins are left incredulous at receiving a compliment from their idol. But most of all, you can tell by the sheer size of the thing: Day of the Dead goes on and on, as was the wont of the band that inspired it. The original idea was apparently to cover 10 of the Dead’s songs. In its finished form, the compilation is five CDs, 59 tracks and five and a half hours long.
Even for someone as emotionally potent as Anohni (aka Antony Hegarty), HOPELESSNESS stands as a high watermark for affecting music. An album that is as sonically adventurous as it is political, vitality spills from its every pore. This is a triumphant record — not so much a return to form as a return to purpose.
"As leader of the chamber pop ensemble Antony and the Johnsons for two decades, the musician formerly known as Antony Hegarty has always been in dialogue with the present. But now, with co-producers Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, there are many more layers of rigor to that conversation. Anohni has undergone a musical metamorphosis, crafting another outlet for her vision: the electronic dance anthem as visceral protest song. So much has unfolded in the six years since Anohni's last studio album with the Johnsons—Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, the trial of Chelsea Manning, the Black Lives Matter movement. Anohni—ecofeminist soul warrior, dramatist, a person who Lou Reed called an "angel"—it would be hard to find a more capable figure to lead us into a woke pop polemic.
Poignant political realities have always grounded Anohni's work, but now they are at the forefront, articulated with an incisiveness that stares you in the eye. You have never heard words like "chemotherapy," "child molesters," and "mass graves" crooned so gorgeously. HOPELESSNESS places Anohni alongside radical pop provocateurs like M.I.A., artists who propose difficult questions that mainstream America does not want to ask because it would not know what to do with the answers. But Anohni insists that we raise our stakes." - Pitchfork
Reliable and timeless, it's easy to take a band like the Jayhawks for granted. So let's not make that mistake, people! Paging Mr. Proust is both vintage Jayhawks and something a little new — a work that appeases and surprises the faithful in equal measure.
"The Jayhawks’ ninth record Paging Mr. Proust opens with one of the best songs the band has ever released, “Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces”. It’s the kind of song that, nearly 30 years into his influential career, one might presume that Gary Louris could knock out in his sleep. It contains all of the beloved, defining elements of the band: the plaintive lyrical introduction, shimmering folk-country guitars, and soaring harmonies, all of it anchored by Marc Perlman’s loping, confident bassline. If Louris were to create a paint-by-numbers system that churned out nine more of these in sequence and call it an album, I’m not sure there’d be much to complain about. The patented Jayhawks sound is just that good.
But there is no painting by numbers here. Rather, Paging Mr. Proust might be the band’s most adventurous collection of songs to date. On it, Louris proves he is a songwriter devoted to adding new ideas and sounds to his creative palette. Joined by longtime collaborators Perlman, Karen Grotberg, and Tim O’Reagan and produced at turns by Louris, Peter Buck, and Tucker Martine, that sonic adventurousness might, ironically, lend longtime listeners attuned to the familiar cause for complaint. The new sounds can seem jarring at first listen, but quickly reveal common ground with the band’s contemporaries. “Lost the Summer” evokes Monster-era R.E.M. while “Comeback Kids” harkens to Wilco’s mix of electronica with Americana. “Ace” is the album’s deepest outlier from the classic Jayhawks sound, with its extended, feedback-drenched guitar jam that sounds more like an out-take from a Dream Syndicate record. Nonetheless, the dozen cuts here flow in an almost seamless sequence, and the album fits confidently into the band’s canon." - PopMatters
As someone who constantly weaves between the sacred and the profane, Rufus Wainwright is the perfect artist to give musical life to some of Shakespeare's best known sonnets. It's an ambitious project full of guest vocalists and speakers, that manages to honour the insight, humour, and beauty of the Bard.
"It’s hard to imagine how someone whose last album was an opera could out-do themselves, but Rufus Wainwright has achieved just that with Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets, to be released via Deutsche Gramophon on April 22, 400 years after William Shakespeare’s death.
Wainwright has a history with the Bard’s sonnets: The San Francisco Symphony commissioned Wainwright to orchestrate five sonnets, and the singer-songwriter also composed music for playwright and director Robert Wilson’s Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Wainwright’s 2010 album, All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu, included three of these, including “A Woman’s Face”. Rather than stick exclusively to his symphonic and theatrical sonnet ties, Wainwright returned to other old collaborators. Marius De Vries, the producer of Wainwright’s Want One and Want Two albums over a decade ago, collaborates on this new album, which largely pairs gilded orchestral pieces with readings by guests including Helena Bonham Carter, Carrie Fisher, and William Shatner.
Two interpretations of “A Woman’s Face” demarcate the album’s 16 tracks — a “pop” version done by Wainwright and an operatic version by Austrian coloratura sopranoAnna Prohaska, who sings four other tracks on the album. Both are gorgeous, but the source material suggests interesting interpretations. Sonnet 20, lyrically written in the voice of a man, essentially translates to, “You’ve got the good looks of a handsome man, but you attract both women and men. But since nature gave you a dick, I’ll keep your love and women will enjoy your body.” Four hundred years later, this sort of complex feeling remains relevant, demonstrating how beauty is a fine, genderless line, and that grappling with sexuality is futile." - Consequence of Sound
A musical portrait of Paris in the late 50s/early 60s years of the new wave. From jazz and soundtracks to bossa nova, folk and cha cha, this set brings you the unique sound of French pop during the Nouvelle Vague years. Featuring pop songs by Serge Gainsbourg, Francoise Hardy and Claude Nougaro as well as instrumentals from the Nouvelle Vague soundtracks (including The 400 Blows, Breathless, Lola, Cleo From 5 to 7) and a cool mix of rare tracks by Rita Cadillac (an ex of Alain Delon), Christiane Legrand and the jazz vocal groups Les Blue Stars. Compiled by French Music connoisseur Matt Robin and featuring 40 tracks and an essay with track by track analysis from French journalist Jacques Denis.
PJ Harvey is the kind of rarely accomplished artist about whom it could be said never makes the same record twice. But Hope Six is actually a strong sequel to 2011's Mercury Prize-winning Let England Shake. Though the record and its stance courts a divisive response from critics and the public, her nearly unbroken streak of terrific LPs remains unassailable.
"Putting together The Hope Six Demolition Project must have been quite the ordeal: it involved inspiration from trips to Kosovo, Washington, D.C. and Afghanistan with photographer Seamus Murphy, and was recorded publicly as an art installation aptly titled Recording in Progress, where audiences were invited to witness the birth of Hope Six at London's Somerset House and gaze at the band through one-way mirrors as they played, performed and recorded. It was a decision that evokes the themes of this record: Harvey herself became a spectacle to scrutinize, just as Hope Six evokes the idea of observation from an outsider perspective, describing events but not having any impact upon them.
Compositionally, Hope Six is gorgeous, and features some of Harvey's best melodies yet. Perhaps because she worked with the same producers, it shares a sonic atmosphere with 2011's Let England Shake, making it sound something like a sister album to that release.
Throughout, The Hope Six Demolition Project is observational yet impartial, wanting to help yet feeling helpless. It's just art, and Harvey seems to know that, so though this majestic album confronts the harsh realities and truths of the world in a medium most can grasp, she seems to wonder, as I imagine we all do, what can be done besides penning a poem or singing a song.
In this way, The Hope Six Demolition Project implicates all of the Western world's complacency, making for a complex and challenging, though gorgeous, listen." - Exclaim!
A selection of rare funk and soul from America’s West Coast courtesy of the indefatigable archivists at ACE/Kent.
"There is a Californian myth of sun, sand and tanned blondes of both sexes enjoying a life of carefree exuberance. For black America, the Golden State offered a different dream and throughout the 20th century the lure of a booming economy attracted millions to the most populous state in the Union. Where there is money, an entertainment industry invariably appears to relieve people of it, and all over California– especially in Los Angeles and San Francisco’s Bay Area – clubs, bars and record labels sprang up. In the immediate post-WWII years these attracted black musicians from all over the country hoping to make their fortune.
The boom years of the 40s and 50s were followed by a decade when social problems from elsewhere in the country arrived to pierce the dream. Independent labels had a hard time competing with the resurgent majors and super-independents such as Imperial owned by white entrepreneurs. The black scene was pushed underground.
But with many years experience behind them, musicians, songwriters and record men continued doing what they were doing – forever hoping the next success, the big break, was on its way. Stevie Wonder was recording at the Record Plant; with a bit of luck, next it could be them. This is the spirit captured on “California Soul” – club singers, former doo woppers, bands of kids off the streets all hoping to break out of their day-to-day life. If it didn’t work out, at least make a living doing something they enjoyed.
We have an amazing selection of funk and soul contained within the 20 tracks. From the Soul Sensations’ ballad ‘When I Had You, Baby’ – one of the finest examples of harmony singing you will ever hear – to the raw street funk of Little Johnny Hamilton’s two-part ‘The Git Down’ and everything in between, this represents the best music coming out of California at the time. Who could ignore the exceptional ‘Butterfly’ by the Ballads or the Brenton Wood-composed ‘Strike’ by Union featuring the vocals of Gail Anderson.
Also present are some previously unreleased masterpieces, great Temptations-style vocal funk and club classics such as Brenda George’s ‘What You See Is What You’re Gonna Get’. Some of these artists went on to bigger things; others drifted away from the business when success didn’t come their way. I’d argue that what we have here is their finest work." - Dean Rudland - ACE Records
Saxophone virtuoso and Polaris Short List Nominee Colin Stetson takes on Henryk Gorecki's 3rd Symphony, a modern classical touchstone for post rockers and orchestras alike.
"It makes sense that, when interpreting Górecki’s most famous work, Stetson tempered his experimental urges and kept the the core of the 3rd Symphony intact. Melodically and rhythmically, there’s little difference between his version and the original, the alterations coming from additions, not subtractions. Even when blood and tissue coagulate to form a more muscular body, you’re able to see Górecki’s skeleton underneath. The first movement, “Lento — Sostenuto Tranquillo Ma Cantabile”, still relies on his doomed interplay between the double basses, a seemingly endless whirlpool whose currents widen with each cycle. But where Górecki’s arrangement rose into a waterspout using only strings, Stetson augments the strains of Sarah Neufeld and Rebecca Foon with foreboding guitar drones and the full drum kit of Greg Fox (Guardian Alien, formerly of Liturgy), amping up the dread and longing with black metal emotionalism.
This decidedly epic nature makes the rest of SORROW feel like something of a respite, despite the final two sections dealing with tragedies that are arguably more realistic than the Passion Play of the first. When the soothing yet melancholic vocal motif of “Tranquillissimo” starts riding on floor toms and Stetson’s saxes around the six-and-a-half-minute mark, we’re suddenly in more modern territory: ’80s soft rock by way of a dirge." - Consequence of Sound
"One of the greatest songwriting talents the UK has ever produced, Ray Davies was tremendously prolific right from his earliest days with the Kinks. His wry take on the British way of life was matched by uncanny melodic and commercial sensibilities, resulting in a body of work that remains unsurpassed. From ‘You Really Got Me’ on, the Kinks’ popularity and influence around the globe has been immeasurable, as ably demonstrated by the many covers of Davies’ songs.
“Kinked!” is an alternative celebration of the Kinks’ first decade, via the songs that “got away” when a surfeit of material was shopped by Davies’ publisher and management, both in the UK and overseas. These tunes include several signature items never officially recorded by the Kinks – ‘I Go To Sleep’, ‘This Strange Effect’, ‘All Night Stand’ – or often released well in advance of the Kinks’ own versions. The range of interpreters is wide, from pop-jazz chanteuse Peggy Lee and teen idol Bobby Rydell to Brit-girls the Orchids, UK mainstays the Pretty Things, sessioneer Nicky Hopkins, satirist Barry Fantoni, US garage punk avatars the Chocolate Watchband and R&B veterans the Olympics. Several cuts are previously unissued alternate versions / mixes or recent vault discoveries. “Kinked!” also gathers the known outside tracks to feature some or all of the Kinks as accompaniment, like the obscure ‘King Of The Whole Wide World’. And as writer, Kinks guitar slinger extraordinaire Dave Davies contributes one track, the rare beat pounder ‘One Fine Day.’" - Ace Records
A terrific, unassuming LP from a young singer/songwriter growing into his gifts.
"Singer-songwriter Kevin Morby’s third solo album reveals that, at 28, he’s an old head on young shoulders. When not sounding uncannily like Bob Dylan (Water), the former member of Brooklyn psych-folk outfit Woods is worrying about his mental powers (“Will I lose my mind?” he sings on Ferris Wheel) and evoking the Band’s warped Americana. There are allusions to the modern world – I Have Been to the Mountain tackles police brutality – but Morby’s serene folk-rock moves back and forth through time. Black Flowers, one of several tracks rooted in nature, typifies his songwriting prowess, its cryptic lyrics twinned with a gorgeous melody that is both pristine and familiar." - The Guardian
"Morby tossed out a red herring when he released Singing Saw’s first single, “I Have Been to the Mountain,” in January. Beyond referencing Martin Luther King, Jr., the song addresses Eric Garner’s death and police brutality. And with its gospel singers and molten guitar solo, it’s not only the best song on Singing Saw, but one of 2016’s best indie-rock tracks." - Entertainment Weekly
"Bradley is a soul survivor who came up the hard way, scratching out every break he ever got through a combination of working his tail off and perseverance. You can hear it in his voice, a magnificent, gravelly shriek that retains traces of the James Brown impersonation he used to do under the name Black Velvet. By now, at age 67, that electrifying voice has definitely become its own thing, and he inhabits the songs on his new album as if he lived them. He probably did: Bradley has said he comes up with lyrics on the spot, while the band vamps behind him, giving his words an especially heartfelt emphasis.
Like its predecessors No Time for Dreaming and Victim of Love, Changes is a strong entry into the canon of modern soul with a vintage heart. Even better is what the album represents for Bradley: after decades of struggle, the Screaming Eagle of Soul has come fully into his own." - Paste
Gram Parsons called his blend of country, rock, and soul "Cosmic American Music," a phrase that captured his hippie ethos: it was American music but it was mystic, an unnamable, unmistakable connective vibe that held together these 50 states...Unlike some of the other entries in Numero's Wayfaring Strangers, the fidelity on Cosmic American Music is better -- not as cheap and grungy -- but that suits the mellow sensibilities of these troubadours. Occasionally, there's a bit of kick to the rhythms -- Kenny Knight's "Baby's Back" grooves along nicely, Allan Wachs conjures a spooky highway anthem, Jeff Cowell's "Not Down This Low" feels sprightly, especially compared to its competition -- but usually these tunes float, feeling as if they were designed to soundtrack a vivid sunset. Such cinematic associations underscores how Cosmic American Music excels on vibe, not necessarily songs. This isn't damning with faint praise: the songs are often nice -- earnest, tuneful and well constructed, respecting the traditions they learned from the Byrds and Dylan -- but this isn't a collection of overlooked compositions, it's a bit of pop archeology, excavating records that feel right. Every one of these 19 cuts certainly does feel right, sounding sun-burned and blissed-out, embodying the hangover of the hippie dream." - Allmusic
"...And that’s what The Wilderness represents: In searching into the unknown, more possibilities have been uncovered. This is most exciting in the album’s briefer moments. Anyone who’s seen the band live knows that EITS refuse to do encores, blaming the time needed to get into the zone impossible to replicate within the confines of an abbreviated set. But on songs like “The Ecstatics,” which uses synthesized percussion and guitar strum textures as an evocative tool, and “Disintegration Anxiety,” which relies on the rhythm of the guitar leads, rather than the drums, to move it along, EITS prove its mastery of this new aim. Huge emotional payoffs are reached without requiring long songs to do it. With attention spans waning, and listeners’ need for instant gratification ever more real, the band doesn’t fight the times.
Explosions In The Sky have crafted an updated version of themselves that’s ready for 2016 ears without sacrificing the band’s identity. The record might divide some longtime fans, but it’s a necessary risk to take to ensure the band’s continued relevance." - AV Club
"Like so many of their peers, The Feelies made a stab at wider commercial appeal in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Fortunately for us, this move didn’t result in watered-down music. The band’s last two LPs (before a triumphant 21st century reunion), 1988’s Only Life and 1991’s Time For A Witness are classics — perhaps not quite as heralded as Crazy Rhythms and The Good Earth, but classics nonetheless, showcasing The Feelies at their most locked-in and tuneful. Bar/None Records’ fresh CD/vinyl reissues of both (with some excellent studio/live bonus material added on as digital downloads) are great reminders of their lasting power...The Feelies saved their most infectious pop song for Time For A Witness: “Doin’ It Again” is a delight every time you hear it, riding a “Roadrunner”-y riff to the heavens. The rest of the album sees the band moving in somewhat more mainstream rock direction — The Feelies had done time as Lou Reed’s opening act, sure, but you can almost imagine them in this era winning over a Tom Petty crowd. But there was still room for exploration: one Witness‘ high point is the lengthy “Find A Way,” a slo-mo, psychedelic wonder that’s both pleasingly spacey and tightly wound. And the closing cover of The Stooges’ “Real Cool Time” is a righteous blast, the seemingly mild-mannered Feelies getting wild and loose in a way that even Iggy would approve of." - Aquarium Drunkard
"As time moves on and the genuine bluesmen slip into historical archives, it is a cause for celebration when someone makes the effort to reconstruct the music of one of the true innovators in the blues genre. Produced by Jeffrey Gaskill, God Don't Never Change: The Songs Of Blind Willie Johnson, is a contemporary tribute to this seminal slide guitarist who was also unique in his imaginative vocal interpretations and compositions of gospel blues. Blind Willie Johnson (1897-1945) recorded thirty tracks for the Columbia label between 1927 and 1930 in sessions done in Dallas, New Orleans and Atlanta, preceding the heralded recordings of blues guitarist/composer Robert Johnson in San Antonio, by nine years. Though his songs have not had the influence and impact of Robert, Blind Willie has left an enduring legacy which is carried on by modern slide guitarists and gospel singers.
It is of course the job of the producer to get the right people for such an undertaking, and this project is no exception. Tom Waits opens with "The Soul of a Man," a raucous holy roller that brings to mind the fire and brimstone preachers who know how to shake up the congregation. "Nobody's Fault But Mine," possibly Johnson's best known and most covered song is given the royal treatment by Lucinda Williams, who possesses one of the most distinctive voices in music. Derek Trucks is widely recognized as a brilliant slide player, and he is joined by his wife Susan Tedeschi handling the vocals on "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning," which eases into "Jesus Is Coming Soon," by the Cowboy Junkies. The Blind Boys of Alabama, were the obvious choice for "Motherless Children Have A Hard Time," and they deliver a soul shaking rendition." - All About Jazz
"Mould’s marriage of fury and melody harks back as far as the Hüsker Dü days, but he sounds far past the point of letting his anger control him the way that band used to. Patch The Sky sounds like a healthier release, the work of someone with a better handle on his dark forces. The new romantic lean of “Losing Sleep” might grimly ponder the cosmos, but it’s also one of the purest pop songs he’s written in years. The fire-and-brimstone approach works as well here for Mould as ever, but he’s not completely fenced in by his noisy pedigree.
More than 35 years into the game, Mould is still hard at work on the tense, dynamic soundscapes some would argue he perfected long ago. But it’s his refusal to rest on his laurels that still makes his songs worth the listen. It’s fair to wonder how many more runs through the alternative-rock mill one guy will get, but ifPatch The Sky is any indication, Mould’s still a long way away from being on the clock." - AV Club
It's never too late to discover a great record, so jump into this reissue of one of our favourite songwriters, Kiwi indie giant and leader of the legendary Clean: it's David Kilgour's killer 1994 LP, Sugar Mouth!
"Some songs capture some of the gauzier feeling of Here Come the Cars thanks to the mixing and soft motorik chug ("Filter" in particular). "Crazy," meanwhile, bears hints of Kilgour's time in Snapper, loud and brash but similarly indebted to a refracted Krautrock drive. Others have an air that can only be described as clear and cool -- not cold, but there's something about the way the acoustic guitars and piano sound on "Beached," Kilgour's singing coming down through echo, or the concluding flow of "Never End" that suggests blue skies, deep oceans, and high peaks. Whether it's the acoustic-based strum and shimmer of "Fallaway," an anthem that never has to strain or sound oppressively big even in the slightest or the heart-tugging semi-waltzes of "Nail in My Foot" or "Recollection," Sugar Mouth is just plain fantastic, full stop." - All Music